For a little change of pace, we’re taking a few sessions to see how Jesus used his body, specifically his five senses, in his ministry.
2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
(Matthew 8:2-4 NIV)
Today’s passage is one of many where Jesus touched people to heal them. In other passages, Jesus healed people with just His spoken word, so touch was not required for healing.
What drew my attention to this passage was the nature of the man’s affliction and Jesus’ interactions with the man.
Leprosy is an infectious skin disease that was incurable in Jesus’ day. In today’s world, leprosy is known to be caused by a bacteria, and is treatable by medicine. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3 people in every 100,000 people has leprosy.
In the Old testament and in Jesus’ day, skin diseases were not uncommon. Not all skins diseases were leprosy; some were a rash or other non-infectious conditions.
In Leviticus chapter 13 , the Lord gave the priests specific instructions on how to categorize various skin diseases, and whether a person was to be classified as “clean” or “unclean”. If the skin condition was classified as “unclean”, the person had to be separated from the general population for the overall health of the community.
Once exiled from the general populace, lepers had to pronounce themselves unclean if anyone came near them. This was to prevent the spread of the disease to others. Imagine having to yell “Unclean! Unclean!” any time someone came near you… not exactly a ego-boosting moment, to say the least.
If the person’s skin condition changed, the person could ask the priest to re-examine them. If the priest determined that the person could now be classified as “clean”, then the person would follow the Lord’s instructions in Leviticus Chapter 14 for the offering to be made.
Notice how the man came to Jesus in humility and worship. The man knelt before Jesus and called Him “Lord”. The man came in great faith – he never doubted that Jesus could heal him; he asked only for God’s grace and mercy and willingness to do so.
Jesus responded compassionately, and told that man that He was willing to heal him. But before Jesus spoke the words to heal the man physically, Jesus reached out and touched the man physically.
By touching this leper, Jesus healed the man in so many other ways – socially, relationally, mentally, psychologically, spiritually. The text does not say how long this man had leprosy – only that he had it. The man likely longed for human touch again – to shake hands with someone, to hug his family members, to simply be back in the community and not living in exile outside the town.
Jesus knew what this man needed, both physically and spiritually, and He used a simple touch to make the man whole again.
When I read this, I stopped to think about my body language, especially how I communicate with people:
- What is this person longing for? Maybe not a flood of words, but simply a hug?
- Do I present an invisible “wall” to someone that communicates unwillingness to have appropriate physical contact (even a simple handshake), or do I communicate openness and God’s love via appropriate touch?
- Have I replaced direct human interaction such as appropriate physical touch with technology (for example, sending a picture of a hug or texting “hugs” to someone who is nearby)?
May we remember to listen to and observe the longings of another person’s heart as shown by Jesus in today’s passage.
And when fitting, may we make ourselves vulnerable and use appropriate physical touch to communicate God’s love and acceptance to those who are hurting.